I woke up to fried eggs, toast, two aspirin, and Anna’s hangover. Those were all for her, except the hangover that bled over the bond just fine.
“You know it’s common courtesy to supply aspirin if you give someone a headache,” I grumbled. My medicine cabinet was woefully bare, the aspirin bottle empty, “did you put back an empty bottle?”
“What kind of twenty-three-year-old who works on a college campus doesn’t have drugs?” She asked.
“The magic kind, Matilda slipped me a book on my third day. I can choose the duration, color, and flavor of the fairy. Did you finish the orange juice as well?”
“We still have milk, how do I not know about that book?”
“Matilda threatened to feed me to a pack of rabid wexels if I shared it with anyone under twenty-one. The hell is a wexel anyways?”
“Magical ferrets on steroids from southern Sudan,” Anna answered.
“Is that a thing people know, or did you just make that up?” I say, “Oh yay we still have toast.”
“Yes, also we’re out of butter.”
“Damn it, Anna, have you been throwing parties?”
“V has been stopping by for brunch,” Anna answered.
“To the car, we’re going shopping. Think I can expense groceries?” I ask.
“The expense account is for weapons, and business trips.”
“My body is a weapon and groceries are a maintenance expense.”
“You’re so full of shit,” Anna said.
“Thank you, wait how the hell do you have a hangover you can’t be poisoned?”
“Sure I can, it just won’t kill me. I’m not time locked or anything that isn’t our department, the reason I don’t age is that I go to a default form every time I change.” Anna explained.
“So if you were to switch quickly to your real form and back the hangover would be gone?” I ask.
I continue to glare at her for a good five minutes as she ate her eggs. “So you’re not going to do that then?”
“I figured I’d wait till you were out of the room, I know how much my real body freaks you out.”
“You’re my familiar I’m not scared of you no matter how ugly you get,” I answer.
It was false bravado of course, and Anna called me on it shifting on the spot. She didn’t get bigger; still she filled the room with her presence.
Shadows seemed to stretch towards her reaching for a creature born of the imaginations of those afraid of death. Gained a gravity, an inexplicable tugging that pulled on my heart.
Then she was back, fourteen eating egg no longer a creature that horrified on an existential level. In the moments during her shift I stepped back, the lip of a cabinet was now digging into my lower back.
“Sorry,” I say.
“It’s fine; I know what I am.”
She was lying, just a little nested under the usual static of emotions she was hurt. I had no idea how to fix it. In brighter news the hangover was gone.
“You couldn’t have done that while I was still asleep?”
“And miss the pleasure of watching you bumble around in the four thousand dollar suit you slept in looking for painkillers?”
I looked down at the suit I was still wearing, “damn it, we’re going to the dry cleaners before the supermarket. Did I do something or were you just feeling prickly?” I ask.
“You didn’t let me go to the after party.”
“You passed out.”
“You let me get drunk?”
“I didn’t let you do jack shit.”
“I was feeling prickly because of the hangover.”
“I’m making you carry all the bags,” I say headed back to my room to change.
“Bite me slave driver,” Anna shouts at my back with my headache gone it’s bearable.
“I’m Jewish, we were slaves first and oppressed more recently. Entire countries want me dead,” I retort.
“Jews were slaves?” She asks.
“Have you not read the bible?”
“Hell, no religion is for other people, no gods for me thanks.”
“You recently participated in the killing of a woman on the personal orders of a god.”
“A minor aspect, kind of like how you’re an even lesser aspect. Besides the dude offers excellent health insurance and stock options. Why are we talking about me, you’re the one who ate what was left of her soul,” I answer.
“Girl’s got to eat, and it tasted great orders are secondary.” She said.
Apparently just remembering eating the soul was enough to create a spike of joy in her emotions. Like all the other things I found worrisome I chose to ignore that one, I also decided to ignore her until I had finished changing.
Finally in a shirt and jeans I left my room with the suit over my shoulder. Without snark, Anna follows me to the car and pulls up the address of a dry cleaner. “So I was thinking about our last conversation with the minor aspect.”
“This isn’t a crime procedural; you aren’t suddenly a detective. Just follow her when the time comes and report what you see.” Anna cut in before I could ask.
“Yeah, but it’s still a good idea for me to learn more about the local powers, this seems like a good enough reason as any to start with the Lamias,” I say.
“Fine, what do you want to know?” Anna says.
“Who are they?”
“You’re going to make me start at the beginning aren’t you? Damn it okay, it all began with the first Oracle of Delphi. Around that time, a rather powerful sorceress was doing her best to see into the future. Messing with time is a bad idea, but she managed to butt just close enough to the line to be useful and not cross it.”
“How bad of an idea?” I ask.
“Pompeii, Tunguska, you know bad. She leveraged her time fuckery into becoming the first Oracle, at which point a local god with a habit of turning people into things decided they didn’t want her accidentally wrecking all sorts of shit. Especially since the spillover would probably hit everyone who had heard a prophecy of hers.”
“All of Greece at the time then?”
“Pretty much, so yeah she got turned into a half-snake thing. The thing is magic changes you almost as much as you change it, and she was using a lot of magic by the end by draining it from the priests. This is from before the masquerade took hold, so that was a thing people did back then.”
“So she became a magical half snake with a huge load a power and the ability to steal convoluted glances of the future. When her successor, an opportunistic sorceress found out, she jumped at the chance to take the snake as her familiar and gain its ability for prophecy.”
“I’m just going to guess it didn’t work?”
“Oh it worked just fine, but there is a reason the first Lamia is a demigod, take something as powerful as that and it will be running the show. At least with the flawed ritual humans use, we’re fine. Since then the family has grown, the most powerful girl of every couple generations get to become the snake’s bitch and call themselves the matriarch. Powerful members get to bond with the snakes kids, less accurate prophecy, and not as much power but still more than a human should bond. Honestly, the only reason the family is still around is because they haven’t pissed off anyone enough for it to override the potential usefulness of prophecy.”
“Ok, who are they now?” I ask.
“Right most Lamias are girls; I ‘m not sure if it’s by design or some accidental trait from their close association with a snake demigod. Honestly, it could go either way; they try to recruit powerful or unique men to birth the next generation, marriage optional sometimes discouraged. Lamia’s are known to like children, they have a lot, and a surprising number become teachers. They’re also known to be ambitious, lack any form of subtlety, and have a lot of power to throw around.”
“What about them and the foxes?” I ask.
“The foxes are a weird lot; you can find them in most parts of the world but usually just one or two. They come here to raise their kids, so we have the highest concentration of them. As much as they love to piss off the Lamia’s they know their kids are safest in a Lamia run school.”
“No shit,” I mutter, “what about Alvia?”
“She’s a member of the main family, so a direct descendant of the current matriarch. Her children and grandchildren are decently powerful but not enough to be a shoe-in for the matriarch position.” Before I could ask she added, “the current matriarch has a heart condition, one of the reasons you’ve been approached for marriage is so that they can offer your services to her.”
“They could just ask,” I say.
“Ask an independent for help? They would never lower themselves so.”
“What else have you got on Alvia?”
“More ambition than most, rumors she poisoned her husband, even if that isn’t true she’s still a murderer.”
“Do I want to ask how you know that, or is it just common knowledge too?” I ask.
“Trust me on all matters concerning death.”
“Fair enough,” I say.
I figure it was time to drop the conversation, something about the Lamia’s seemed to piss Anna off. The timing was good since we had just arrived at the dry cleaners, “wait here Anna I’ll just be a moment.”
I had never actually used a dry cleaner before, but the shop was about what I expected. Smallish, filled with clothes on a rack, vaguely Asian guy behind the counter.
“Welcome, how can I help you today.” His accent while stereotypical sounded false for some reason. “A suit you haven’t been kind to huh? Well, no problem we can handle that just fine.”
Then I noticed scrawled on the side of the cash register a pentagram with a fox on it. The man winked when I looked back at him.
“Don’t worry about the cost it’s on the house, least we can do for someone who fought a Patchwork.” He said the accent was gone, and he didn’t seem to have gained a new one.
“I did nothing of the sort; I just helped the Dulahans when it was all over.”
“Sure you did, that’s what I heard, and what will be said. The suit is still on the house, lots of kids in this neighborhood you know.”
“Fine, but I protest special treatment.”
The man laughed, “how’s your back doing she did fall on you must not have seen you odd that, and your wrist seems remarkably unbroken.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, and I’m pretty good with broken bones.”
“Well if any of the kids break something we’ll send them your way, all you are is a simple healer right?”
“Exactly,” I say making a hasty retreat towards the exit. Anna was waiting for me outside.
“What got your panties in a twist?”
“Foxes were apparently watching the hunt, and have decided to screw with me,” I answer.
“Wow they work fast, I was expecting it to take a few more days.”
“You knew they were watching?” I ask.
“No, but these are the foxes they like to keep an eye on everything interesting. I wonder how much of a loop you threw them for with that don’t-see-me spell of yours.”
“He mentioned that there was nowhere to watch from was there?”
“Rumor has it they have some potent scrying abilities, but they like to play their cards close to the chest. My advice is to ignore them till they get bored.”
“That seems remarkably unproductive,” I say.
“They’re foxes; the stupid move is to engage them.”